How do you know if you are truly loved? Loved not because of what you bring to the table, but simply loved for who you are. If you have ‘good’ parents, somehow you know. If you have a ‘good’ spouse, somehow you know. How you know is kind of hard to put into words, actually. It’s like, if you see it, if you experience it, you’ll know it. But then there’s the question of why.
Why are you loved? Perhaps you might consider your attributes - you’re a nice person, you’re thoughtful, you’re kind, you try looking out after your spouse’s every need - things like that - always putting the best construction on who you are and why you deserve someone’s love.
But then what about when you’re not these things. What about when you’re grumpy, thoughtless and less than compassionate. What is it that makes you lovable when you’re having a bad day and you’re lashing out is apparent to everyone around?
Allow me to use marriage as an illustration. Often, when it comes to marriage, people will say it’s a 50-50 proposition with each spouse bringing an equal portion to the table. That sounds good. That sounds really fair, and fair indeed it is. Except that in a relationship like this, you’ve always got to keep score. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not being shorted, that the other person is putting out just as much as you are - just to be fair, of course. To counter that, people will say, no, marriage must be 100-100. But even with that noble goal, one’s still in the scorekeeping mode. In that kind of marriage, the wife needs to be the Proverbs 31 woman (look it up, verses 10-31 if you dare). Faultless in every regard. And the husband needs to be a full upgrade on Prince Charming all the time. No bad days.
I’ll submit to you that a good marriage can’t be a 50-50, nor even a 100-100 proposition. For a good marriage to work it must be premised on a 100-0 equation. I know that sounds unfair and it is. (Not that one strives to be at the ‘0’ end of the equation but through no fault of your own - or very often by your own most grievous fault - that’s where you do find yourself at times. Worth and worthy of absolutely nothing, and yet, you are loved.) That’s a very comforting place to be in. All because, for some reason, you are loved.
So the question arises, why does God our heavenly Father love us so much? You sin! He still loves you. You ignore him. He loves you. You wander away. He loves you. You forget about him for years. He still loves you. You offend him. He loves you. Why? I don’t think even the greatest Pastor or the most brilliant seminary professor can give an adequate answer to that question. But love us he does. Loves you no matter what. Loves you no matter how many times you have screwed up. Loves you to death, he does.
God’s love is not based on a 50-50 transaction - if you are good for God, God will be good for you. It’s not even based on a 100-100 arrangement - where if you give it all over to God, God will return the favor. None of that works for not only our selfish thoughts, harsh words and dreadful deeds are included in the mix of what we bring to the table, but who we are by nature: broken, selfish and curved in upon ourselves. We bring nothing to the table when it comes to God, nothing but our sin anyway. But nevertheless, you are loved. Completely! Why, I’m not sure. It’s certainly not because of something innate in us. It’s not because God looked off into the future and saw what we’d become. It has to do with the heart of God. But how much you are loved, that God does tell us:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
God loved the world in this way: he gave his Son for you.
What an incredible comfort those words are. That Christ Jesus absorbed all that was and is wretched about you into himself and, to pay the price you deserved to pay, gave up his life so that you wouldn’t have to. He wasn’t forced by his Father to do so as if it was some sort of divine child abuse. He was fully complicit in the act himself. Sent by the Father, Jesus, by his own choice, gave up his life for you. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17).
Jesus came, not to condemn you, not to wag his divine finger under your nose, not to judge you by pointing out every place you haven’t met the 50-50 or 100-100 computations. No, for you and for your salvation he came down from heaven above to earth to save you. You sin. You ignore him. You wander away. You forget about him for years. You offend him. He loves you. You bring ‘0’ to the table and still, he brings 100% all for you.
In a sense, that’s kind of uncomfortable. We don’t like that there’s nothing you can bring to the table that makes him love you, nothing you bring to the table that can pay him back for his graciousness. By nature, it’s built into us to be scorekeepers and even when the odds come out in our favor, if the score is uneven, it bothers us. And yet, when you’ve so utterly failed in life that your situation is hopeless, your Lord Jesus wraps his lovingly cross-outstretched arms around you, assuring you that, nevertheless, you are loved.
Oh, it is true, as Scripture declares and the Christian creeds confess, Jesus will at the end, reappear to judge the quick and the dead. But this you need not fear. It’s rather comforting in fact, because, broken as you are, you will be judged righteous. In fact, you already have been declared thus. Holy and blameless, not because of what you’ve brought to the table but because the rightness of Jesus has been imputed to you, credited to your account. And when you find your life completely in arrears, that’s a very comforting thing to know. In fact, it will completely change you.